A unique moment
It is Friday the 26th of January on a warm day in the United Arab Emirates. The entire BIKE AID Procycling team has already had a great start into the season and not only surprised while Amissa Bongo in Gabon with a stage win, winning the team GC and second place in the individual GC by Niko Holler, but also set the bar quite high for Sharjah Tour. It is now the morning of the queen stage of the Sharjah Tour (UCI 2.1). At the start are numerous European Pro Continental teams whose budgets amount to several million euros and whose riders successfully participate in the so-called "Grand Tours" in the world of cycling (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta Espana) year in and year out.
But very often it comes in the end very different than you may think. Not the favorites around Javier Moreno, Davide Rebellin, Nicolai Mihailov or Jacopo Mosca are the celebrated heroe at the end of the climbs. No, it's a boy who came to cycling just by accident and just a few years ago. This boy is called Salim Kipkemboi and comes from Kenya. He is only 19 years old and practically still a "teen".
Where does Salim come from?
If you had to describe Salim, that would sound like this: purposeful, thirsty for knowledge, eager to learn and tremendously motivated. He is a quiet, introverted boy who not only makes his teammates laugh with his extremely dry sense of humor. His home would rather be described as very modest - in Africa. In Europe, on the other hand, you would find completely different words that would draw his origin - probably because of the other standards and perspectives.
Education? None. Because such a thing does not exist in a sustainable way, where Salim comes from. But now he speaks fluent English, even a few chunks of French are now in it. How does this work? Salim takes his destiny in hand, sees the guys from the "Kenyan Riders" project on their "own" 23-kilometer climb up to Iten as 16-year-old day climbing up. On their racing bikes - we in Europe would also call these bikes euphemistic if at all a "winter bike". But for Salim it was just great. He's on his "Black Mamba" (African transport bike) and the guys on the race bikes.
Up the hill on the Black Mamba
He just decides to ride. Every day, uphill. He was riding a nearly 20 kilos heavy bike. But he keeps up, stays in the camp. Because he likes it and has fun. He just goes to the lessons that camp and project founder Nicholas Leong holds in stoic and calm manner every day. Mathematics, some basics of physics based on cycling, but also general knowledge are on the daily schedule.
Salim integrates into the group and trains. He enjoys competition and cycling. It becomes his life content. Then in 2017 he will join BIKE AID in his first year as a Elite cyclist and continued learning. Tactics, technical skills and what else belongs to the big cycling stage, e.g. at the Tour of the Alps.
And last Friday it was time. Salim belonged to the final top group and made many correct decisions. He was the first Kenyan to win a professional race. But this victory means more than that.
A project that changes lives
This victory is the proof that it is worth to work sustainably. That it pays off to believe in goals and to give it everything every day. Not just the athletes, but everyone involved in the whole project.There are people working with Nicholas Leong, Simon Blake and Ciaran Fitzpatrick who do a great job at the grassroots level in Kenya.
To show young people the first opportunities and to promote them. Why? Because they believe that these talents in Africa deserve it to get a chance.
This victory is also a first proof that it pays off to stick to the concept and that it takes time to earn the fruits. Since 2014, BIKE AID has been integrating riders from Africa into the pro team to give them the opportunities that have led Salim to such a win.
Initially smiled at more often in the world of professional cycling, the concept and team BIKE AID are now more than taken seriously.
Everyone involved is aware that this was not winning the World Champs, but winning on this level of cycling with such a young Kenyan just feels like winning the World Championships - and it is more than motivation to go on with it and to give everything for the further development.
Photo Credits: Mathilde L'Azou